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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Orange Crush -- January 23, 2010


Note: This is a training video showing the Orange Crush at a medium security prison and does not show any real prisoners. This video is taken from youtube. The situation in Paul's part of Stateville is different; there are bars on the cells and not doors. But this gives an idea of how the Orange Crush look and operate.

Yesterday, I was awakened at 6 a.m. by shouts, clanging of bars, and the sounds of heavy boots stomping the concrete. It was the Special Tactical Squad, better known as the Orange Crush, storming into my cell house. It sounded like B House was being invaded by a small army of soldiers, all dressed in bright orange jumpsuits and black body armor. These guards were from several prisons in northern Illinois, and numbered over 200. Many of them had shields, and wielded wood batons tied to their wrists to prevent them being used against themselves. These guards lined up against the cell house wall, while another group came to our cell bars. Upstairs, the Special Tactical unit was rushing into positions on the two galleries above mine.

The Orange Crush invasion was not altogether a surprise. After a guard was stabbed last week, most prisoners knew the administration would order a response. Although the perpetrator acted alone, there would be some kind of collective punishment, or retaliation. A month, two, or several months of lockdown was not going to be considered as adequate compensation. The Special Tactical Unit is a display of force meant to intimidate and humble a prison population, as well as collectively punish them. It is the common, atypical response of the warden, and those of us who have been here for years knew to expect it. Even if our new warden did not believe it was appropriate, or justified, he would be compelled to make the order by the guards who work here. Despite how us old timers knew the Orange Crush was coming, we were like the 3rd Reich in WWII, not knowing where or when the Allied invasion would occur, but unlike them, being powerless and having done nothing to provoke the attack.

The Orange Crush guards in front of our cells demanded we get up and turn on the bright fluorescent overhead light. We were then strip searched, and allowed to reclothe only in boxers, and our thin state-issued blue pants and shirts. No shoes, only sandals, I was told, and after I put them on, I was ordered to put my hands behind my back and then through a horizontal opening in the bars to be handcuffed. I heard other guards yelling at prisoners to face the wall, and not touch anything, so I did not have to be told what to do. I stood there with my cellmate handcuffed in front of me, waiting for further orders. Upstairs, I could hear doors being opened, and inmates filing out. It was not long until my cell door was opened.

On the gallery, I followed the inmates in the cells before me out the front door of the cell house. There was a large contingent of guards in the tactical squad escorting us out. I also saw members of the Internal Affairs Unit as well as some administrators. As I walked through the cell house door into the corridor leading to the chow hall, I was hit with a gust of cold winter air. Temperatures were frigid outside, and the hallway began with two large doors partially open allowing the cold outside air in. After the assault of wind, I walked up a small set of stairs to see Orange Crush lined up on both sides of the corridor with helmets down, shields and batons in their hands, ready to pummel anyone who stepped out of line, or showed any resistance. I peered through the visors of some of the guards in my forward vision. I did not see any familiar faces, which would have made the tactical team appear less impersonal, less threatening, and more human. Behind their shields, body armor, and visors were a variety of people, including a few women, to my surprise.

From the hallway, we were taken into the first chow hall. I chose a table as close to the kitchen and farthest away from the door, hoping it would be warmer. Guards told us to sit facing away from the tables, and forbade us to talk. I sat facing the inner circle where the guntower and feed counters were located. To my left was my cellmate, and to my right, one of my neighbors. The table had six stools and there was a person sitting on each of them. Although I had been able to choose a table, the Orange Crush squad made sure we were grouped together. I suppose it was easier to control a less dispersed herd. Often, I believe, prisoners are treated like animals, and today was no different.

Typically, the Special Tactical Unit is in the cell house for an entire shift. Therefore, I expected to be seated on this stool for the next seven hours. I attempted to make myself comfortable, but this was difficult being handcuffed behind my back, cold, and with my lower back pain. For three weeks, I have been without any pain medication or anti-inflammatories for the ruptured disk in my spine. I leaned forward to take pressure off my sciatic nerve, but it was not much help and as I waited, my pain grew worse and my left leg went numb.

I was very surprised to see that the Orange Crush made accommodations for people who had injuries, were old, or had health problems. Typically, no consideration is made for these people, and when complaints are made, those speaking are told to shut up. Yesterday was different, and those with crutches were not handcuffed, and those with shoulder injuries were cuffed in front, or in back with two handcuffs. Even fat people were given two handcuffs. Furthermore, people were allowed to use the washroom. After a couple of hours, anyone who needed to relieve themselves were grouped at a few tables near the door, and escorted to a bathroom. Consideration was also made for diabetics and those on dialysis. Diabetics were given their insulin in the chow hall, and dialysis patients were taken to the health care unit to have their blood filtered.

Two guards with German Shepherds went into the inner circle of the chow hall. Apparently, they had just returned from the cell house where I assumed the dogs were run through cells searching for drugs. The dogs were unruly and undisciplined. They seemed to have as much control as someone's personal pet. The dogs' handlers continuously had to pull on their leashes, and their orders were often ignored, or only heeded for a limited time. A female guard came into the circle, and one of the dogs lunged to attack her. If not for the handler's quick tug on the leash, she would have been given a viscious bite. The dogs were restless and ordered to sit on numerous occasions. They would sit for a moment before getting back up to aimlessly move about, testing the limits of their leash. A person in the kitchen staff noticed the dogs behavior and brought some water out in a styrofoam soup bowl. The dogs just sniffed it, and went back to their unruliness. Typically, many dogs are brought with the Orange Crush to intimidate the inmates. They are allowed to bark and lunge at prisoners, and their use for drug searching is only a second, or minor, function. That there were only two canine units and they were kept away from inmates today, seemed to show a different approach by this administration.

While waiting in the first chow hall, some inmates from the other chow halls were made to line up at the exit. Internal Affairs was present, and I reasoned that these prisoners would be subject to drug testing. Later, my cellmate told me he thought I.A. was going to question these people, or these people were found to be in possession of contraband. My cellmate was worried that he would be questioned by a certain member of the I.A. unit because he had last year put him in segregation for refusing to talk about his tattoos and denying any gang affiliation. I knew this was not going to occur. I.A. had already questioned people about the incident the previous week, and too many people were lined up to all have been found in possession of contraband. Not long after the line was formed, I.A. called out about 10 names from our gallery to join the line. Afterwards, I watched how a few of them were taken out of line to have a urine drug test, and then returned to the chow hall.

My wait in the chow hall was an uncomfortable one. Not only was I cold and in pain, but I was tired. The last couple of nights I had stayed up past midnight typing and retyping a statement in defense of a disciplinary report written up by the same guard whom my cellmate was concerned about. The report was served upon me well after the statutory time limit of 8 days, and was apparently written to justify I.A. taking most of my property on New Year's Day. There was no justification, however, and I immediately began constructing a 6-page response, and a grievance. I also sent out letters to my lawyer and parents.

After we had been in the chow hall a little over three hours, I was surprised to overhear the order over the radio of a lieutenant--the tactical team was done searching galleries 6 and 4. I had expected them to take most of the day. The lieutenant got on his radio and told whomever was on the other end to notify him when they were ready to bring 6 gallery back to their unit. My mood brightened after hearing this. I would not be handcuffed behind my back, shivering in the cold, and suffering from the increasing back pain for much longer.

I could see through some cyclone fencing that 6 gallery had been waiting in one of the other chow halls. They were lined up, and sent down a corridor made by more cyclone fencing in our chow hall to the exit and into the hallway leading to the cell house. About 20 minutes later, 4 gallery followed suit. I was thinking we would be next, but my hopes were dashed when I overheard a radio announcement that 8 gallery was in route, and a 10-4 by the lieutenant. Neither 8 nor 10 gallery had left their cells yet. They were filed into the building and took up the space in the chow halls vacated by 6 and 4. A man gave a greeting to my cellmate as he passed by, but my cellmate was too cowardly to respond. It was not until these galleries of men were secured that 2 gallery was sent back.

A guard yelled out to the prisoners on my gallery to stand and line up when they heard their cell number called. The cell numbers were shouted out in reverse order so the line would correspond with our cells when we filed into the cellhouse. Again, we walked through the gauntlet of Orange Crush with shields and batons positioned in unison. This time, I did not bother to inspect the faces behind the visors, and was just looking forward to having the cuffs that were digging into my wrists taken off. As I passed the staircase and offices, I saw the havoc left behind. On my left, against the cell house wall, were piles of pillows, mattresses, blankets, property, and garbage. On my right were the prisoners' cells with their property thrown about. I came to my cell, and it was no different.

After having my handcuffs removed, I searched through the mess of property looking for some clothes to wear. I found a pair of sweatpants and a sweater, and put them on along with some socks. My cellmate did the same, and then looked at our shakedown receipts. They both said "no contraband found." The mess in our cell was so great--I was in no hurry to begin the clean-up. I knew it was going to be a long process for me to reorganize my boxes. I decided to clean out my boxes before putting my property away. A I located the floor rag and began to scrub soapy water into it, my cellmate began filling his small property box. My cellmate would rather quickly stuff his boxes with his property. However, my method would be much more deliberate and organized.

I began by sorting all my property into piles such as clothes, hygiene products, foodstuffs, papers, etc. From those piles, I meticulously put my property away, beginning with my small box. All my papers, books, magazines, pens, pencils and mail went into my small box. I had all my papers organized into 9 x 12 inch envelopes. Like a file cabinet, you can easily find what you are looking for. Fortunately, the Orange Crush team did not scatter my papers about, and I was able to put my small box together in a short time. My large property box was a different matter, however, and I was not finished with it until after shift change at 3:00.

My cellmate had finished packing his proeprty well before I had. He commented that I should look on the bright side--if I.A. had not taken most of my belongings, I would have been putting things away into the evening hours. He also commented that the Orange Crush would have thrown out all my containers, just as I.A. had done 3 weeks earlier. Before I.A. had taken my property, I had a large number of empty oatmeal boxes, clean plastic jars, and other containers that I used to store things in. For example, I had 8 peanut butter jars filled with various foodstuffs such as rice, peanuts, refried beans, and trail mix.

Although we were left a shakedown receipt stating that no contraband was found, this did not mean that nothing was taken from us. Our extra state-issued blankets were taken, as well as a commissary blanket. The extra bed sheets my cellmate had were taken, as well as both of our water bottles. A lid off one of my bowls was gone, and some cardboard I had been using to divide my large box into groupings. A stack of newspapers I had wedged between the bunk and the wall was gone. The hooks I had melted onto the walls to hang our towels and washcloths were broken off, as were the hooks I made to hold our jackets and attach the end of a privacy sheet. Early today, I had to create new ones and go through the process of melting them into place. I saw my commissary blanket on top of a pile of state issued blankets. When a guard who was not on the tactical team passed by, I asked him to give it to me before they were taken away. He obliged. Orange Crush was not supposed to take commissary property, although they often do.

My cellmate and I did not suffer much loss by the search. Other inmates were missing foodstuffs, hygiene items, clothes, and all sorts of miscellaneous property. Some of them yelled to the lieutenant, voicing complaints. The lieutenant yelled back that there was nothing he could do. He was not digging through the trash left on the lower floor to look for their property. Other inmates, accepting their losses, just complained to one another. All that day and until I went to sleep, I heard prisoners hollering to one another about what the Orange Crush took from them. I also heard complaints of damaged property. In the last Orange Crush search, my radio was tossed on the floor and damaged. I grieved the matter, and was awarded $10. I did not receive the money for over a year.

A number of prisoners were written disciplinary reports for having contraband. A few of them were immediately taken to Segregation. A man who works in the hospital was found to be in possession of rubbing alcohol. He was sent to Seg. My neighbor received a disciplinary report for having prescription medication. From what he told me, it was prescribed for him, but he had taken it out of its packaging. Another man on my gallery was written up for having Wiccan drawings that the guard searching his cell deemed to be gang-related; I also heard of people being given tickets for having magic markers and disinfectant. To my knowledge, no dangerous contraband was found. I did not expect any to be found--any prisoner with a shank or other weapon would have discarded it before the Orange Crush arrived. Possibly, that serves the purpose of the search just as much as if it is found.

Correctional Officer Williams was stabbed with a pen last week. However, the Orange Crush failed to take the pens from inmates on 2, 4 and 6 galleries, and only took them on 8 and 10, as if an afterthought. At Stateville, prisoners are only allowed to buy clear, thin plastic pens or short, clear rubber pens, neither of which I can use because of the pressure I use when writing. The plastic pens crack, and I have even had one snap in half while writing. The rubber pens bend way too much when I write. Thus, like the vast majority of inmates at Stateville, I acquire pens from inmates who have transferred in from other institutions, or pens from guards or other staff. I reuse these pens by exchanging their ink cartridges. It is probably foolish for the tactical team to take pens when they will just be replaced by others, even though the official purpose of the massive search was in response to the staff assault, and to make the institution safer. This only demonstrates, however, the true reason the Orange Crush was assembled--not based on reason or security, but emotion and retaliation.

Whether in a maximum-security prison, or in the United States' response to terrorism, decision makers must act with a cool intelligence, and not irrationality, or the heated passion of the masses. We can make our world only so safe before security outweighs not only our freedom, but function and practicality. In response to the attempted airplane bombing on Christmas, there was a huge overreaction. The overreaction was based on a knee jerk impulse, and had no cerebral thought behind it. The same impulsive irrationality guided the Orange Crush. People must accept a certain degree of danger. Danger is all around us, and we can never become perfectly safe. Every now and then "shit happens," and there is nothing we can do about it, nor should we try. As Americans, I should think we especially should not cower at every potential threat, but live free and brave. It is a shame these virtues have been lost and have been replaced by fear, and the police state, both inside and outside these prison walls.